Spirit Builders Growing in Faith
It started in 2005 when the Independent Order of the Oddfellows put their dilapidated building on King Lane, and their half of Jesse Lee’s main parking lot, up for sale. Jesse Lee not only needed to keep that critical parking area, but they also wanted to have a larger space for the youth and several other growing ministries to meet in so Jesse Lee decided purchasing the Oddfellows property was something worth exploring.
Step one was to check out the building to see if it was worth the $900,000 price tag.
Peter had given the project a lot of thought. He believed that the design and execution of rehabilitating the building would end up costing far more than anticipated (as such projects usually do) unless it was managed by a full-time committed Church member who was an expert in the field. He was also convinced that it would be virtually impossible to lead this enormous renovation while also running his business and taking care of his family. It seemed like a “lose-lose” scenario: watch the Church get into a dire financial situation, or sacrifice business and family. He decided to recommend against purchasing the building.
That’s when God stepped in.
A critical meeting was scheduled to decide if it made sense to buy the Oddfellows property. Peter went into the meeting fully intending to recommend against making the purchase. When it was his turn to step up and share his professional opinion with the divided crowd, Peter said he experienced something he couldn’t explain or understand. He said, “I was hijacked by the Holy Spirit.” Despite his careful analysis and firm recommendation AGAINST buying the building and the property, he heard himself agree to take the lead in the renovations.
“I couldn’t believe what came out of my mouth,” Peter said. “I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience watching myself say ‘yes’ when I was dead set against this idea, but that’s how God works. God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called.” And so Peter accepted the call to lead this project.
The Church leaders and congregation decided in 2006, as a leap of faith, to get a mortgage to buy the building with the little stable next to it (and parking lot) AND THEN to launch a capital campaign to raise the $1.5 million needed for the purchase and to make the needed repairs.
As it turned out the capital campaign brought in around $1.1 million. It was enough to pay off the mortgage on the building but not enough to restore it. Now what?
The Carriage House Council was formed with John Ward, Peter, Dale Brown, Elizabeth Rabinowitz, Carole Stathis and Dave Sigworth taking lead roles in this ambitious project. They had just over $50,000 to “stop the bleeding” of the building while the team figured out what to do next. A group of 80 talented, hard-working people showed up on that very first work weekend.
Gradually, volunteers started coming to the work site to do small projects conceived by The Council. One thing led to another until they started to recognize that this was all a set up by the Holy Spirit: We weren’t supposed to raise enough money to have contractors do the renovations. Jesse Lee was supposed to start an in-house volunteer construction ministry modeled loosely after ASP but targeted toward adults.
After three years and another modest capital campaign for materials only, The Carriage House Council and its merry band of volunteers had renovated the entire first floor of the Carriage house, created a new 2-floor 3BR 2 ½ bath “Residence” on the second and third floors and created an elegant larger Chapel out of the little stable building. In the course of doing the work, many friendships were forged, and people found their calling to serve in this ministry of helping hands.
Despite spending thousands of hours on the Carriage House project, Peter’s business and family survived and thrived which he attributes to divine intervention. This was just one example of how things would go unusually well when the volunteers followed nudges from The Spirit. The whole experience was blessed.
In 2009 it was time for another decision to be made: did the Carriage House Council disband and go back to life the way it was before everyone enlisted in this spirit-led project or did they build on the momentum generated with the carriage house conversion and begin something new?
They decided to keep it going and Spirit Builders was born. They established a three-part mission. The first was to support the church. The second part was to support the community, and the third was teach other churches how to start their own Spirit Builders chapters.
Over the last 11 years, Spirit Builders did major renovations of all the living units in the Church including the Senior Parsonage, the Second Parsonage and both apartments on the third floor of Wesley Manor. They reconstructed the four bathrooms in the Church buildings into handicap bathrooms and built a handicap playground for the nursery school among other projects. Most recently, Spirit Builders built the elevator shaft for the new elevator in the Church and built the bridge that connects the church with Wesley Manor. These improvements were all part of the Jesse Lee Accessibility Project
In the community, Spirit Builders designed and constructed a handicap-accessible playground at Farmingville School which is one of this dedicated group’s proudest achievements. They also help with a number of smaller church service projects like helping Zion’s Hill Church, one of our Cooperative Parish partners, remodel one of their bathrooms.
Another example of how God has guided the Spirit Builders to serve the community has its roots in a seed planted back in 2005, before the Spirit Builders had taken shape. A call from St. Mary Church came in asking if Jesse Lee had anyone who could build a wheelchair ramp for a terminally ill member of the parish whose dying wish was to attend Easter worship. The people who now make up the Spirit Builders repurposed the framed walls ASP kids had made as part of their training into wheelchair ramp panels and quickly created a way to make it possible for this woman to enjoy church on Easter one last time.
Answering that call 15 years ago was the catalyst what has become Spirit Builders’ robust wheelchair ramp building service. Now the ASP kids get their carpentry skills-training making ramp sections instead of wooden frames for walls. To date, Spirit Builders have built roughly 200 wheelchair ramps in Connecticut and New York. In cases where there is not enough land for a ramp, they learned how to build elevators to solve this problem.
Most recently, they answered a call that came through I.R.I.S. (Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services). A refugee family had been resettled in New Haven, but one of the kids was wheelchair-bound and needed a ramp. Spirit Builders put crews together made up of a mix of experienced ramp builders along with friends, family and members of the community to build a way in and out of the house. The family was moved to tears by this gift. The work Spirit Builders does is emotional, not only for the people receiving the benefits of the Spirit Builders’ work, but also for the builders themselves.
When they are getting started, people can be unsure and hesitant about tackling carpentry projects and handling power tools. Leaders lay those concerns to rest by assuring the newbies that there’s no need to worry about mistakes. “Everything is fixable,” is their mantra. John Ward’s teaching style inspires excellence in every skill and he always maintains a playful element of fun with each project.
These empowering attitudes make this ministry a perfect place to learn new skills and help make a difference. It’s especially valuable because it gives parents the opportunity to work with their kids on projects that serve others.
John says he has been working with the Spirit Builders group for nearly 15 years and there has never been a cross word exchanged, even when there are disagreements. He said with a smile, “You won’t believe how the Holy Spirit comes in on projects for the Church and makes everything come together.”
The third element of the Spirit Builders’ mission is to help other churches start their own Spirit Builder chapters where they can serve the church, serve their communities and step by step, make transformational differences in the world. This aspect is still a work in progress, but John and Peter are confident that the Spirit Builders seed of service will take root and grow exactly when and where God wants it to flourish.
The people in Spirit Builders believe that Spirit gives every person involved in this ministry their own piece of the puzzle. It is very important that all, especially leaders, are attentive to everyone else’s point of view so that they do not miss the right path. It is an exhilarating process! Together, they build beautiful things to serve God, and each other, well.
If you want to learn more about Spirit Builders and figure out what your piece of the puzzle is, please reach out to Peter Swirup or John Ward.
Love Your Neighbor As Yourself
The first Saturday of the month except January, July, and August. Volunteers get their assignments via email, and we meet at the worksite.
Thursday morning work group planned via email. Contact Peter Seirup for more details.